Dead or sort of alive, Georgia's anti-gay "religious freedom" bill continues to spark controversy in Georgia, opposition from business, threats about it impacting Atlanta's Super Bowl bid and a march by opponents on Tuesday.
The bill suffered a near fatal blow on Thursday before its chief sponsor, state Sen. Josh McKoon (second photo), promised to resurrect it on Friday. The House Judiciary Committee hinted that it would resurrect the bill during a special meeting on Monday, then cancelled that session.
With the General Assembly set to finish on Thursday, the bill's path to becoming law continues to narrow. But it's not closed, prompting supporters to prepare new signs and get ready to rally. On Tuesday at noon, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination will meet, mobilize and march at Central Presbyterian Church.
We'll meet at Noon at the Central Presbyterian Church for a rally, then we'll march to the Capitol to tell our lawmakers in person: "No license to discriminate in Georgia!"
This is the final week of the legislative session, which means it's the last week of our efforts to ensure that this harmful bill never becomes the law in Georgia.
The location isn't an accident. LGBT and progressive opposition to the bill has featured faith leaders who oppose the bill to blunt arguments from supporters that LGBT equality is an affront to religious freedom. On March 17, about 200 opponents of the bill –including faith leaders – rallied against McKoon's legislation at Liberty Plaza across from the State Capitol.
What prompted the Judiciary Committee to unschedule a meeting they quickly scheduled? The three Republicans on the panel that helped vote through LGBT protections – which in turn prompted the bill's sponsors to table it – standing firm.
The cancellation of the House Judiciary Committee meeting, if it sticks, seems to be the strongest indication that none of the trio were willing to switch their votes – and that state Rep. Wendell Willard, the committee chair who didn’t cast a vote last week, was holding firm.
Since the bill was tabled on Thursday, more pieces of Atlanta's influential business community – which went publicly silent this session after loudly opposing "religious freedom" legislation last year – stepped out to oppose the bill.
The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau finally found its voice, expressing its reservations about the "religious freedom" bill and its impact on tourism in the region. Last week, the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association came out against the bill and said it would cost the state $15 million in convention business.
From the ACVB's resolution passed on Friday, via the AJC:
"Be it resolved that Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau stands together with Atlanta's hospitality and business community in opposition to the implementation of any legislation which could be used to potential discriminate and will continue to work to ensure that every visitor to our city continues to be welcomed warmly and in accordance with our standards for excellent customer service."
Atlanta-based Mail Chimp also came out against the bill. From Think Progress:
As a privately held company, we don’t normally comment on public policy. However: We do not support SB 129 or any other discriminatory legislation. We ask Georgia’s lawmakers to join the voices in their community that are saying no to discrimination and intolerance. We’re extremely concerned that this legislation would be harmful to people, cities, and businesses in our state. It also opposes many of our own company’s values: inclusiveness, diversity, equality, and respect.
Also, the Georgia NAACP called for the bill's defeat, arguing that it "props up discrimination."
The Georgia NAACP calls for a defeat to SB 129, the Georgia House version of the nationally known Religious Freedom Reform Act (RFRA). "These measures seek to give cover to those bent on propping up discrimination in the name of their so-called religion" said Francys Johnson, Statesboro Attorney and Pastor who is the State President of the Georgia NAACP. "In the name of God, they want the law to protect their crusade against gays with the same arguments segregationist used 50 years ago," said Johnson.
Bill prompts call to scuttle Atlanta's Super Bowl bid
Opposition to McKoon's bill has also mixed together two powerful interests in Atlanta – sports and business. On Sunday, the Human Rights Campaign called on the NFL to dump Atlanta's bid for the 2019 Super Bowl.
…Atlanta is a top contender for the Super Bowl in 2019, but this law directly contradicts the NFL’s nondiscrimination policy and values of acceptance and inclusivity. Should this bill become law, Georgia will not be a welcoming place for LGBT people or many other minorities.
Public businesses ranging from department stores to the corner pharmacy, funeral homes to restaurants, all could legally turn away LGBT people. Those are not values the NFL supports. I strongly urge you to consider whether that is the type of environment to which you want to bring a Super Bowl, and the associated revenues, prestige, and media spotlight….
Also, Atlanta City Council member Andre Dickens, who courted LGBT votes during his 2013 campaign and has marched in the Atlanta Pride parade, called on NCAA President Mark Emmert to move the Final Four from Indianapolis to Atlanta. The March 27 letter came as Gov. Mike Pence signed a "religious freedom" bill into law, fueling national backlash over the legislation.
From Dickens' letter:
"Atlanta is a city built on tolerance and home to numerous Fortune 500 companies and internationally renowned nonprofits. The NCAA should strongly consider moving its headquarters to Atlanta," said Dickens.
Dickens comments come on the heels of Indiana Governor Mike Pence signing a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gays, lesbians and frankly just about anyone else they wanted to.
Dickens didn't mention the controversy in Atlanta over McKoon's "religious freedom" and how that could impact his request. But it's another example of how the legislation could impact the intersection of sports, business and tourism in Atlanta.